The Repatriation ProcessiStockphoto
Upon their return home, many expats feel isolated among their family and friends.
Family, Friends and the Repatriation Process
Whereas expat kids are concerned with fitting in with their new peers, adult expats have their own social obstacles to overcome throughout the repatriation process. In the first few weeks, friends, and relatives at home will mostly be supportive and solicitous, but this may change. Unless they have been expats themselves, they will neither know nor understand what it means to be an “invisible immigrant” and how to best support former expats in their coming home from an international assignment.
“I clashed a lot with my best friend and my mom after my repatriation from over five years in Singapore,” Wendy (46) from Baltimore recalls. “They quickly got tired of hearing about my time abroad and were rather focused on how they themselves had moved on while I was gone. My mom, for example, was mainly interested in talking about my youngest niece – her latest grand-child – and how she was doing in kindergarten. And my best friend occasionally almost resented me for bringing up Singapore in our chats.”
Wendy’s friend, who had never spent any time in a foreign country except on holidays, felt like Wendy was showing off when she talked about her life in Singapore. “She accused me of monopolizing conversations with mutual friends. When I once complained about getting used to managing my household without domestic help again, she made a couple of snide remarks about ‘entitlement issues’ and went home early.”
Some former expatriates like Wendy indeed feel an acute loss in status and significance throughout their repatriation process. In their respective expat community, they may have been a big fish in a small pond, so to speak, perhaps even profiting from a generous expatriate allowance and enjoying the whiff of adventure that’s such a big part of expat life.
When they go back to a more mundane sort of life back home, their loved ones do not know what the expats miss so much. Next to having to adjust to fundamental cultural differences, it is especially the sense of newness and freshness that so often characterizes a stay abroad which is acutely missed throughout the repatriation process.
Beating the Repatriation Blues
For Wendy, it got better when she signed up for a transition seminar with an intercultural coach. “I met a few other former expats there, and now I’ve found new friends to share my experience with. They have even encouraged me to take up Chinese classes again and to volunteer as a contact person for other expats returning home from Singapore.”
Ever since she has learned to cope with the repatriation process, she has also been getting along much better with her friend from college. “I’m beating the repatriate blues, and now I can finally appreciate what she did while I was away, particularly her professional achievements as a lawyer. I guess I’ve come to terms with the repatriation process at last.”
By connecting with other former expats, Wendy has managed to overcome her re-adjustment issues. However, there are also other ways in which you can make coping with re-adjustment issues easier. Read our article on emotional repatriation problems to learn how you can minimize and best overcome such problems.